The echo of bombs exploding reverberates in the ears of many Syrians, plunging them into terror. As the violence continues to escalate, a church leader in one major city says, “The situation is bad. There are killings and kidnappings on the road. Kidnappers are mainly targeting children, and some people have stopped sending their children to school. Few families have emigrated, but many are working to find a way to leave. People are living in fear. Christians as a minority fear for their lives.”
The situation is particularly bad in Homs, where sources report that more than 80 percent of Christians have fled to surrounding villages or Damascus. Some pastors have stayed and continue to hold Sunday morning services, but the few Christians who remain have only limited means of safe transportation to church. “People who live near to each other get together to pray,” says a local Christian. Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA says, “In the big picture, it’s a humanitarian crisis in Syria. The city of Homs is being reduced to starvation for people that are not caught in the crossfire and killed. All the reports out of Homs say that it’s truly been turned into a ghost town–a war zone.”
The nations that make up the Friends of Syria group met Friday in Tunisia to ask the United Nations to step in as peacekeepers once President Bashar Assad agrees to a cease-fire. Although President Bashar Assad has not responded to similarly-worded requests in the past, what is different this time is the pressure by the nearly 70 nations involved in the group. If Assad refuses to respond, he faces a tightening noose of international isolation and sanctions, and an increasingly emboldened and powerful armed resistance.
But either way, Syrian Christians are caught in a political crossfire. The possibility of Assad’s departure is alarming to Syrian Christians. Moeller explains, “They have a relationship with the government that allowed them to be sort of protected underneath Assad’s regime. Assad kept the forces that would destroy the Christian community at bay through his own dictatorial power. But if Assad is removed from power, all bets are off…. Christians are caught between two fires; the dictatorial regime of Assad, and the Islamic extremist-led revolution that puts Christians squarely in the crossfire.” Knowing that they are targets has also hampered ministry. “For the first time in some of these places, we’ve had to curtail Christian meetings,” Moeller notes, adding that on Fridays, the weekly Islamic day of assembly, many Christian schools now close. “Christians have had their churches attacked, and so forth, so we’re really trying to assess the situation from the Christian’s perspective.”
The capital, Damascus, is more stable. “Churches have kept their services intact and schools are running well, except on Fridays,” a pastor says. “Still, people don’t leave home after sunset unless they go to areas they know well and have easy access to.” “We come together to worship, and people have strong faith,” one Syrian pastor said. Currently, Christians are not under direct attack. “But we don’t know if things change how they will treat us,” he said. “The one thing that is sustaining the church there now is their faith,” Moeller notes. “Many of the believers are still clinging to their faith as their hope for the future even though, politically speaking, it’s very unclear what their fate will be.” Whether or not Assad steps down and a peacekeeping mission begins, the days ahead for Christians will be difficult. Moeller says Open Doors is coming alongside the Church with resources and other encouragement. ”
“The church is praying non-stop,” says a pastor from Damascus. “We pray a lot and trust God’s hand in this.”
Father, we lift up the Syrian Christians, caught in a political crossfire that has left them vulnerable to attack. Protect and sustain them. Give them courage and perseverance to live in faith as they face this dark uncertainty. Help them to know our prayers on their behalf and help us to be faithful in coming alongside them as they walk through times of trouble. In the name of Jesus who, “for the joy set before him…endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Amen.
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